STATEMENT BY PREMIER DR. HON. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY ON INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
2nd Sitting of the First Session of the Fifth House of Assembly
Since assuming office, my Administration has been active in advancing the interests of the Virgin Islands at both regional and international levels.
It is my privilege to update this Honourable House on the Territory’s international affairs, as we have continued to represent the Virgin Islands in various regional and international forums.
Madam Speaker, in early May, I travelled to the United Kingdom (UK) where I attended the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III. The coronation was certainly a historic event for the UK, Overseas Territories (OTs), Crown Dependencies (CDs) and the Commonwealth.
Thereafter, I led a delegation to the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) in London between UK and OT Ministers, which had been postponed in November 2022 because of political changes in the composition of the UK Government. I was joined by Deputy Premier, Hon. Lorna Smith, OBE, which strengthened our representation.
The meeting was hosted by OT Minister the Rt. Hon. Lord Goldsmith, and attended by Foreign Secretary, the Rt. Hon. James Cleverly, other UK Ministers and UK officials; as well as the Premiers and Ministers of the Territories. Our discussions were aimed at strengthening UK support for the OTs and improving cooperation in key areas.
Lord Goldsmith announced that Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak had agreed that each UK Government Department would have a Minister that leads on OT matters.
My proposal for the Virgin Islands to host the preparatory meeting of an agreed UK-OTs Illicit Finance Dialogue, to deepen our engagement on protecting the global financial system, was accepted by both UK Ministers and OT Leaders. It was also agreed to establish a Technical Working Group on Public Registers. The Minister of Financial Services will elaborate on these in due course.
The outcomes of the meeting are set out in the JMC communique, and I look forward to further dialogue with Lord Goldsmith, particularly on climate change and environmental matters.
Madam Speaker, in early June, I travelled to the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York to appear before the Special Committee on Decolonization, also referred to as the C-24. I provided the Committee with an update on the steps we are taking to advance the sustainable development of the Territory, including the launch of the National Sustainable Development Plan that took place in February. I also informed them of where things currently stand in the relationship between the UK and the Virgin Islands.
Madam Speaker, I did place on the record my Administration’s objection to the UK continuing to maintain an Order in Council in reserve, that can immediately suspend the constitution. It is not necessary. UK Parliamentarians, CARICOM, OECS and the C-24 agree with our position. I also expressed our deep concern about recent statements by the Governor regarding him potentially obtaining additional powers over the Virgin Islands. This also is not necessary.
Madam Speaker, while in New York, I also had a bilateral meeting with His Excellency Ambassador James Kariuki, the Deputy Representative of the UK Permanent Mission to the UN. We discussed improving BVI-UK relations and exploring UK support at UN level, for BVI participation in climate change and sustainable development related initiatives.
Madam Speaker, here in the Virgin Islands, my Administration welcomed a high-level UN delegation to the Territory from 13th-15th June to participate in a BVI-UN Sustainable Development Forum. Ten UN agencies were represented at the High-Level Dialogue with Government Ministers and Junior Ministers on 14th June, both in person and virtually. They included ECLAC, UNDP, UNICEF, UNESCO, ILO, WFP, UNFPA, IOM, FAO, and the Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO) for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. The UN delegation was led by UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Didier Trebucq.
The UN delegation also met the Sustainable Development Goals National Coordinating Committee (SDGNCC), comprised of the Permanent Secretaries of the Ministries of Government and chaired by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sustainable Development Mr. Joseph Smith-Abbott, and co-chaired by Permanent Secretary in the Premier’s Office Mrs. Carolyn Stoutt Igwe. Bilateral meetings were also held between respective Government Ministries and UN agencies with whom they are cooperating on programmes.
Additionally, Madam Speaker, Members of the Opposition received a briefing from UN representatives on the deliberations, and had an opportunity to share their views on the areas of sustainable development, they believe the Virgin Islands can benefit from through UN support.
By the end of the BVI-UN Sustainable Development Forum, we identified a number of areas in which the UN can provide additional technical assistance to the Territory. These include, among other things, migration and immigration policy support; revision of the youth policy; development of a student feeding programme; strengthening of social protection and support for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, women and youth; a sustainable energy audit; an energy transition policy for a low-carbon economy; digitisation; collection and use of data; national planning; development of a national pension plan; design of an unemployment scheme; innovative financing for climate change and sustainable development; implementation of the Blue Economy Roadmap; and implementation of the National Sustainable Development Plan. We are following up with the UN on next steps in translating these identified areas into tangible support.
Madam Speaker, at the regional level, I attended the 73rd OECS Authority meeting in Saint Kitts and Nevis from 18th-19th June, where I had the privilege of addressing the Opening Ceremony as the most recently elected political Leader. I called for OECS to stay at the forefront of climate change and sustainable development issues at international fora. During the deliberations, we discussed a number of issues aimed at deepening regional cooperation and integration.
Madam Speaker, I then travelled to Saint Lucia, where I attended the annual meeting of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), where the British Virgin Islands assumed its rotation as Governor on the Bank’s Board, as a borrowing member. I commended the work of CDB on the new metric for use in their credit process, which they refer to as “internal resilience capacity.” They have also given input to the UN on the development of a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) that can be utilized when considering concessional financing and development assistance for Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) like the Virgin Islands that are classified as “Medium” or “High-Income”, but highly vulnerable to external economic and environmental shocks.
Importantly, in advance of the CDB meeting of the Board of Governors, the CDB held its first ever consultative meeting with OTs in Anguilla. This was a highly productive engagement. The next such consultative meeting will be held here in the Virgin Islands, where I will host my OT Finance Minister colleagues and the President of the CDB and members of his team.
Finally, Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to inform this honourable House that next week I will attend the 45th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of CARICOM.
The Virgin Islands has been an Associate Member of CARICOM for 32 years. Our Associate Membership is one of the primary means by which we engage in regional cooperation that benefits the Territory in a variety of ways, including the strong political support we have received over the past two years. It is highly appropriate that the Virgin Islands is present to demonstrate our solidarity with our neighbours, and find solutions to problems such as regional transportation and food security that affect the region.
Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to update this Honourable House on international affairs matters, and will do so again at the next appropriate juncture.